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9 Aug 2017

Mamata renews hill talks call .... Oxygen support to Morcha supporters on indefinite fast

TT, Calcutta, Aug. 8: Mamata Banerjee today said in a written statement in the Assembly that all parties in the Darjeeling hills were welcome to sit for discussions to end the impasse provided they shunned violence and withdrew the strike.
A senior official said the move by Mamata, who had earlier given an offer for talks with a similar condition, was aimed at getting the administration's intention to resolve the impasse recorded in the Assembly.
"Opposition parties and the Gorkhaland agitators often accuse the state government of not reacting to the so-called people's movement in the hills," he added.
The statement was circulated around 2pm, barely four hours before the deadline set by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha for the Centre to start talks on Gorkhaland ended. The Morcha had threatened to intensify the ongoing agitation if the Centre didn't respond.
The Morcha top brass declined to comment on the chief minister's call. Sources said they would meet in Darjeeling tomorrow to discuss the next course of action.
Morcha assistant general secretary Binay Tamang said a formal reaction would be issued after a thorough examination of the statement.
Mamata today told the Assembly she would be happy to talk to all hill parties if they were willing to give up violence and withdraw the strike.
"This situation can only be resolved through discussions following the democratic process. I have indicated that I would be happy to talk to everyone - there is not just one party there - if they shun violence and withdraw the strike," Mamata told the House, before circulating the statement among the members.
Political analysts said Mamata's thrust on the existence of several parties in the hills was an indication to the Morcha that it alone could not dictate policies regarding the agitation.
Although Mamata had tossed the proposal for talks at least once before, this is the first time that she offered the dialogue route to resolving the crisis through a written statement in the Assembly.
Pointing out that Calcutta High Court had declared the strike - in its 57th day - illegal, Mamata once again alleged links between the Morcha and insurgent groups in the Northeast and foreign powers.
"There is enough evidence of links between the Morcha's movement and terrorist outfits from the Northeast... for gathering weapons and setting up training camps," she said.
The chief minister accused Morcha chief Bimal Gurung and other party leaders of misleading the people.
"Some uncomfortable news of a similar entente of the Morcha and some groups with neighbouring nations was also received. These are clearly anti-national activities that are also harmful for national security," she said in the statement.
"It has been learnt from reliable sources that Gurung and his followers have been gathering uniforms of the military and paramilitary forces for disguising as personnel of the armed forces," the chief minister added.
Mamata rolled out a list of damage and losses caused to the state government in the current strike. According to her, 54 vehicles had been damaged or destroyed, while 73 government properties had been either ransacked or torched.
Pegging the losses at Rs 550 crore, Mamata said 93 tea gardens had remained shut and 113 government employees were injured during the strike..
Shortly after Mamata's statement, both the Left and Congress demanded time to respond to the chief minister in the House.The Congress's Matigara-Naxalbari MLA, Sankar Malakar, said it was not the time to point fingers at anyone and play the blame game.
Ashok Bhattacharya, CPM MLA and Siliguri mayor, accused Mamata of fomenting tension "when there was none" by trying to impose the Bengali language on schools. Mamata said there was no notification on making Bengali compulsory in schools in the hills. "Some parties are trying to seize this opportunity for shallow gains, like the CPM," she said.
Protesting the chief minister's barbs, Left legislators walked out of the House.
Reacting to the statement later in the day, CPM state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra said the Left had always been in favour of discussions.
Oxygen support
The condition of three Morcha supporters who are on an indefinite fast in Kalimpong worsened today. They were put on oxygen and given saline.
Kalimpong district magistrate Vishwanath visited the protesters and requested them to get admitted to hospital.

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